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The funky Citroen C3 Aircross is a practical take on the small crossover concept

The Citroen C3 Aircross is a likeable and worthy addition to the small SUV market that holds more appeal than many of its rivals. 

It's not particularly rewarding to drive, but it does offer relaxed cruising ability and promising fuel efficiency from a strong range of petrol and diesel engines. Ride comfort is decent, too, while the distinctive interior has lots of kit and useful family-friendly touches.

What makes it stand out are decent levels of practicality - something that can't be said for every vehicle in this class - and plenty of scope for personalisation to build on the already-funky looks.

Our Choice 
Citroen C3 Aircross Feel PureTech 110 S&S manual

If there was a category that was made to promote the quirks of the latest Citroen range, it's the small crossover class. It first dipped its toe in the category with the C4 Cactus, but now the Citroen C3 Aircross takes up the challenge in this hard-fought sector.

The C3 Aircross replaces the C3 Picasso small MPV in the range, while the recently facelifted C4 Cactus moves sideways to become a stopgap in the compact hatchback sector. But thanks to the C3 Aircross's dimensions, it has as much space inside as the C3 Picasso, so owners of the old car can move to the new one without having to compromise practicality.

Under the skin, the Aircross shares its platform and running gear with the C3 supermini. It also has the same level of personalisation, with a range of funky colour options, contrast roof colours and different interior trims on offer.

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Power comes from a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine and a 1.6 diesel. The 1.2 is called PureTech and comes in 82hp, 110hp and 130hp guises. The two lower powered engines get a five-speed manual gearbox as standard, while the more powerful version gets a six-speed box. If you want an auto, there's a six-speed self-shifter available with the 110hp engine.

The BlueHDi diesel comes in 100hp and 120hp outputs, with the less powerful engine coming with a five-speed manual, and the more potent version fitted with a six-speed manual. There's no auto option with the diesel, while no version of the C3 Aircross can be had with four-wheel drive. Instead, Citroen offers its Grip Control switchable traction control system with mud and snow tyres that help boost the car's ability on sand, snow or rough terrain.

There are three basic trims, although the entry-level Touch model only comes with the least powerful petrol engine. The other two specs, Feel and Flair, are offered with all other engine and gearbox options, and they ramp up the kit count, too. The Touch model features 16-inch steel wheels but also has a DAB digital radio with Bluetooth media streaming, air conditioning and auto lights.

Feel trim adds alloys, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a leather steering wheel, LED daytime running lights and extra aluminium-effect trim outside to give a more rugged look. Flair spec really raises the stakes, with 17-inch wheels, dual-zone air-con, auto wipers, rear parking sensors, keyless entry and navigation. It also gets a contrast-colour roof and a style pack as standard.

As well as these models, we can expect limited edition versions to join the range from time to time. Currently the C3 Aircross Rip Curl is on the books, and adds a bit of surfer style from the sports brand. It's based on mid-spec Feel trim and adds sat-nav, Grip Control and some other bits for a small premium that's less than the cost of upgrading to Flair trim.

Citroen was late to the small crossover party, and the Nissan Juke is due to be replaced by the Mk2 model soon. Other established rivals include the arch-rival Renault Captur and the Peugeot 2008 and Vauxhall Crossland X from Citroen's sister firms. Another strong contender is the SEAT Arona, while the Hyundai Kona is a better option than the Kia Stonic, which shares the same engines and tech. Elsewhere, the Ford EcoSport is still trying to make up ground to the class leaders.

Engines, performance and drive

3.8
There's not much fun to be had in a C3 Aircross, but it delivers reasonable comfort and refinement instead.

On the move, the C3 Aircross feels pretty much like a slightly larger, taller version of the C3 - and in the most part, that's no bad thing. The two cars share a lot of components because they're both based on the PSA Group's PF1 platform.

This isn't the most sophisticated set of chassis parts on the market - indeed, it can be traced right back to the old Peugeot 206 - but a string of updates over the years has kept it respectable, and the C3 Aircross implementation is one of the best we've yet experienced.

It continues PF1's well-known trait of allowing the occasional sharp road imperfection to jar through into the cabin, unfortunately, but the extra bit of travel afforded by the Aircross’s extra height does make it feel a bit more accomplished than a C3.

It hangs on surprisingly well, too. The Aircross shows decent resistance to pronounced body roll, and while the steering is far from communicative, it’s direct enough for you to learn to lean on it.

This is not the type of car that you'll get a great deal of enjoyment from driving at the limit - but should you carry a bit too much speed into a corner, it's worth knowing that the Aircross will punish you not with any sideways drama but with predictable, consistent understeer.

We've tried examples on 17in and 16in wheels and the larger tyres have a tendency to scrub across the tarmac; the 16-inchers actually behave themselves too, but there is a noticeable groan from the straining sidewalls.

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The C3 Aircross isn't really designed to for serious off-roading, but Citroen does offer its Grip Control system as an option if you know you're going to get the wheels muddy from time to time. It's basically an advanced stability programme that can be altered depending on the surface you're driving over - and it includes a hill descent setting that will take the car down steeper slopes at a gentle, easily controlled speed.

Engines 

The PureTech petrol engine is available with three power outputs - 81bhp and 118Nm, 109bhp and 205Nm or 129bhp and 230Nm. The diesel options are two versions of the same 1.6-litre BlueHDi unit, producing either 98bhp and 254Nm or 118bhp and 300Nm.

We're very familiar with the 1.2-litre turbo petrol engine - it's used in a variety of Peugeot and Citroen models. It's a refined enough engine, only feeling a bit strained when you get above 4,000rpm, but possessing enough torque to make sure you shouldn't have to do that very often. The mid-spec 109bhp version offers the strongest mix of performance, economy and price. 

The auto box, meanwhile, is an Aisin unit that’s also seen use in various Minis; it’s not infallible, but it’s generally smart enough for swift, smooth progress on all but the twistiest of roads.

We've also tried the high-powered diesel, which feels a more grown-up offering altogether - helped, no doubt, by hefty torque that cuts in at around 1,250rpm. It’s not the quickest C3 Aircross on paper (that’s the high-powered petrol) but it’s almost certain to be so in the real world. The diesel engine - PSA’s well-proven 1.6 - is a great little motor, blending that admirable bottom-end shove with smoothness that only starts to break up at levels of revs that you simply don’t need to use.

We tried this engine with the six-speed manual, which is a solid enough gearbox let down by a slightly vague linkage (a typical PSA trait, unfortunately) and a squared-off, stylised gearknob that isn’t particularly comfortable in the hand.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4.3
Lean three-cylinder petrol engine and frugal diesel deliver solid economy and CO2 emissions numbers

Citroen is pitching the C3 Aircross a larger, more upmarket vehicle than the C3 supermini; indeed, to some extent it's a de facto replacement for the C3 Picasso small MPV. As such, list prices are a bit higher than they are for the regular C3, although the starting figure for the most basic Touch edition of the Aircross (available only with the most modest petrol engine) is still low compared with many of the car's rivals.

Citroen has a history of offering plenty of dealer incentives and discounts, and this is likely to continue on the Aircross, which should have some of the more appealing monthly finance rates on the market. This is, in some respects, a safer way into an Aircross than outright purchase, because it insulates you from depreciation - a factor that has not been particularly kind to Citroens in years gone by.

The most frugal C3 Aircross on paper is the lesser of its diesels, which gets a five-speed gearbox and returns official combined fuel economy of 70.6mpg and CO2 emissions of just 104g/km. In the real world, though, we wonder if the more powerful diesel - which is only just behind it on official figures, at 68.8mpg and 107g/km, won't be that bit more comfortable with life and a teeny bit more economical as a result.

The petrols can't match the diesels' official figures, of course, but the PureTech three-cylinder engine is one of the more efficient offerings in this area of the market, and its numbers are no disgrace in a car of this size. The mid-spec petrol in Feel trim (our preferred choice from the range) manages official combined economy of 56.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km.

Citroen C3 Aircross vs Hyundai Kona vs Mazda CX-3

As you'd expect, the automatic variant with the same motor takes a bit of a hit, with economy falling to 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions rising to 126g/km.

On the whole, though, the C3 Aircross looks one of the more efficient offerings in the class. To give the 110 PureTech some context, a similarly powered Nissan Juke with a six-speed manual gearbox emits 128g/km of CO2; Renault's slightly more powerful Captur TCe 120 manages 125g/km.

Insurance groups

Citroen has yet to confirm insurance groups for the C3 Aircross. We'd expect it to nudge higher than the likes of the C3, though, to reflect its higher price tag and position further up Citroen's range.

Depreciation

Depreciation data on the C3 Aircross shows that it's not quite up with the best small crossovers for holding on to its value - Citroen's tactic of dealer incentives and discounts doesn't help. Although the experts quote lower retained values for the Citroen, as it’s generally cheaper than most of its rivals on a like-for-like basis, it will actually lose less money.

One model to avoid, is likely to be the Touch. It's the entry-level edition and is available only with the weakest petrol engine. While its standard specification isn't too bad, this version is expected to account for only a tiny fraction of sales - and it's unlikely to prove any more popular once it filters through to the second-hand market.

Interior, design and technology

4.1
Smart design, including scope for personalisation - but infotainment system is fiddly to use

Citroen is hoping to attract new customers to the brand with the C3 Aircross - and it believes those buyers are drawn by funky design and the scope for personalisation.

The Aircross certainly looks the part, with a beefy evolution of the C3 supermini's looks. That means the ultra-slim daytime running lights at either side of the grille, but a taller, bluffer front end and more plastic around the bodywork.

The side profile is dominated by the 'floating' roof, which can be enhanced further through the choice of a contrast colour and, as part of a colour 'pack', a different shade of roof bars. This pack also brings graphics for the C-pillar, which is blacked out otherwise.

This appetite for personalisation should be satisfied by the colour options. There are eight body colours available, along with four of those aforementioned 'colour packs' and three contrasting shades for the roof.

The entry-level edition of the car gets steel wheels, but Feel editions get 16in alloys and range-topping Flair steps this up again, to diamond-cut 17-inchers.

Inside, there are some cues from the C3, but the overall feel is of a more mature product. The standard mix of cloth and hard grey plastic isn't particularly sophisticated, but the optional 'Metropolitan Grey' and 'Hype Colorado' ambiance packs (available on Feel and Flair editions) give a softer-touch fabric to the main panel of the dashboard. In this respect, the C3 Aircross is every bit a match for the likes of the Renault Captur and Nissan Juke.

The rest of the package is about par for the course in the class, though, with hard, scratchy plastics never too far away from your touch. At least the front seats offering something different; they're part of Citroen's 'Advanced Comfort' approach, so they're wider and a bit more cushioned than you'll normally find. They remain surprisingly supportive on twistier roads, too.

The rest of the package up front is pretty standard fare, with analogue instrument dials - although a head-up display is available as an option.

It's worth noting, too, that because Citroen thinks the C3 Aircross customer has a different 'lifestyle profile' than someone who'd buy a C3, this car is not being offered with the supermini's ConnectedCAM dashboard camera, even as an optional extra.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment 

The most basic C3 Aircross, Touch, get DAB and Bluetooth functionality as part of a four-speaker infotainment system. A seven-inch colour touchscreen is standard from the mid-spec C3 Aircross and above, while range-topping Flair trim adds sat-nav to that tally. It’s the same system as in sister brand Peugeot’s more recent SUVs, and it works relatively well, with clear colours and sharp graphics even if the screen is sometimes a little slow to respond. The menu layouts also aren’t always the most logical, but are still easy enough to navigate.

It’s packed with kit, though. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay come fitted as standard for music streaming, easy phone calls on the move and navigation if you’d prefer not to use the Citroen system. Mirror Link is also offered as part of the inclusive connectivity package, but this is a bit clunky compared with the slicker interfaces designed for most modern smartphones.

Also featured are DAB, Bluetooth, and Citroen’s Connect Box Emergency and Assistance System that’ll dial through to the emergency services after a crash.

The system itself is one of the more comprehensive on the market - but that doesn't mean it's one of the best. There's a lot functionality rolled into that one display, including temperature controls for the cabin, and at times the system can feel like it's being overwhelmed by the amount of processing required.

The interface doesn't help with this, of course, because it forces you to come out of some areas of the system to perform tasks like raising the cabin temperature by a single degree. This is even worse if you're having to duck in and out of the otherwise-slick world of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

The dashboard contains a single USB socket at the bottom of the centre console; this is welcome enough, but we'd have preferred to see a second one alongside it, instead of the 12V socket that's increasingly irrelevant in today's market.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

4.3
A decent amount of space for a small SUV makes the Aircross a viable option as a small family car

Small SUVs generally have a whiff of 'emperor's new clothes' about them, because they're usually more expensive than their supermini relatives without actually offering any more space.

The C3 Aircross manages to buck this trend. Its wheelbase is longer than a regular C3's, by around 60mm, and this translates into a rear cabin that could actually cope with a couple of adults for a reasonably long journey. They're unlikely to complain much even if their knees to graze the front seat backs, too, because they're soft and squishy enough to be forgiving.

Headroom could be more of an issue, especially if the C3 Aircross in question has the panoramic sunroof fitted. It makes height more of an issue for any rear passengers over six feet tall.

Up front, meanwhile, there are wider, softer seats than you'd commonly find in the class, and they're supportive enough to not give you backache on a long journey. Headroom is less of an issue for the front occupants too, even with that sunroof - and there's no denying its appeal, because it bathes the cabin in light and prevents it from becoming gloomy.

The boot is a useful 410 litres with the rear seats pushed back, and you can slide them individually to increase this capacity to up to 520 litres, or fold them down completely to open it up to 1,289 litres. The floor is flexible too, allowing you to prioritise either a flat load bay or overall capacity. There’s also a neat vertical slot at foremost edge of the boot, for you to tuck the parcel shelf away and accommodate taller loads.

Size

The C3 Aircross is 4,155mm long, 1,765mm wide and 1,637mm tall. That makes it around 16cm longer than the C3, and taller by a similar amount. It’s also a little longer and taller than a Renault Captur, and the SEAT Arona - although the Spanish offering is a few millimetres wider.

Leg room, head room & passenger space 

Think of the C3 Aircross as a halfway house between a supermini cabin and a family hatchback and you won’t be far away from the packaging on offer here. There’s plenty of room for two adults up front, and two fully grown adults should be able to sit behind them in relative comfort (soft, squidgy front seat backs help with this, by allowing rear-seat occupants to press their knees forwards).

Headroom is a little more of an issue - especially if you choose the panoramic sunroof. It does make the cabin much brighter and more airy, but it cuts away a few centimetres of headroom; this is especially true in the rear cabin, where six-footers will feel the top of their heads rubbing on the lining.

Can the C3 Aircross operate as a five-seater? The answer is yes, but despite the lack of a big transmission tunnel in the middle of the floor, it’s probably best if the thinnest of the group sits in the centre rear seat. And three adults are likely to find their shoulder space a bit restricted, especially during a longer journey. In this respect at least, the Aircross can’t quite shake off its supermini origins.

Boot

Small SUVs don’t have a great reputation for delivering any more practicality than their supermini cousins, but the C3 Aircross bucks the trend by offering a genuinely useful boot. Its capacity is 410 litres with the rear seats in place, and you can slide them forwards (either as one, or using the 60:40 split) if you want to increase this to up to 520 litres.

With the seats folded, there’s 1,289 litres on offer - not exactly a rival for an estate car, but usefully capacious. You can also move the boot floor to prioritise either capacity or a flat load area with minimal lip - and if you need to remove the parcel shelf, it’s worth noting that there’s a space for it just under the front end of the boot floor.

Reliability and Safety

3.5
Lots of shared parts and proven platform should help, but Driver Power score is poor

The C3 Aircross is built on some of the PSA Group’s oldest and most trusted current components. Indeed, its PF1 platform can be traced back to the days of the Peugeot 206. In addition, much of its engine line-up has already seen service in several other Citroens and Peugeots, including the C4 Cactus, one of our favourite small SUVs.

With that in mind, the C3 Aircross should offer reasonable potential reliability, although it’s worth remembering that while the C4 Cactus did make it into our top 100 cars in the most recent Driver Power rankings, it only sneaked into the list, at 91st overall.

Citroen’s Driver Power ranking is a worry, though; the company finished 26th overall - next to last - in the most recent set of figures, with just under 13 percent of owners saying that they’d had a problem with their vehicle. They also criticised the quality of interior materials, and the connectivity and electrics.

Euro NCAP awarded the C3 Aircross a five-star rating in 2017, with safety scores of 85% for adults, 82% for children and 64% for pedestrians., There was a 60% score for safety assist, because autonomous emergency braking is only offered as an option on Feel and Flair models. All cars get electronic stability control, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and tyre pressure monitors, though.

Warranty

Citroen UK offers a standard warranty with the C3 Aircross - two years of unlimited-mileage manufacturer warranty, and a no-cost option of a third year of cover from the dealership. This final 12 months has an overall limit of 60,000 miles, however. This level of protection is just about par for the course across the industry, but some of the C3 Aircross’s rivals do offer more - notably the likes of the Hyundai Kona and the Kia Stonic, which come with warranties lasting five and seven years respectively.

Servicing

Citroen offers the company’s fixed-price servicing deals on the C3 Aircross, which means you can get three years of cover for around £400, which can be paid for up front or for a small monthly outlay.

Last updated: 
1 Aug, 2018